After all the commotion created by claims that Crack the Skye is Mastodon’s “eerie classic rock album” or a swan dive into full-on progressive rock, fans could be forgiven for approaching this album with a degree of trepidation. Add producer Brendan O’Brien (unofficial sixth member of Pearl Jam and, lately, producer of some kind of ho-hum Springsteen albums) to the equation and this could’ve easily turned into an ill-advised toning down of Mastodon’s metallic force. It’s true, there is some very prog-ish stuff about Rasputin’s religious sect, as well as a greater emphasis on Brent Hinds’ clean singing style, but they haven’t turned into Coheed & Cambria. Thankfully, Mastodon are still at least one castrated furrball from anything like that happening.
At this point, Mastodon have placed themselves at the top of the heavy metal mountain, and this makes them an easy target for criticism from infinitely fickle (and often close-minded) metal fans. Any time a well-loved metal group attempts to expand their style, there are always those ready to shout “sell-out”, and internet trawlers are already claiming that Crack the Skye is the weakest Mastodon album…presumably because it isn’t a carbon coby of “Remission” (“you know, cuz I was into Mastodon way before all these hipsters.”) Whatever. Mastodon have progressed with every subsequent album. Their career trajectory reminds me in some ways of Death, another band who continued to expand their technical profeciancy and embrace increasing melodicism with each release, much to the chagrin of the hardcore death metalheads. On the other side, you do have lemming indie rock fans who will eat up taste-maker approved Mastodon or Isis, but who wouldn’t dare go near other great (if less hip) metal groups like Entombed, Candlemass, or Morbid Angel. However, it’s not Mastodon’s fault that Stereogum-smackers don’t know shit about Immolation and suck their thumbs to The Postal Service at night. At this point I would like to note that I’m typing this while wearing a polo shirt…but I did have a dream the other night that I got a flame-engulfed skull tattoo that said “Heavy Metal”. And I’m chugging Jack Daniel’s. My metal cred sounds like a fucking Holiday Inn Express commercial.
Anyway, Crack the Skye is bursting with riff after soul-crushing riff. Brent Hinds came up with the majority of his parts while recovering from serious brain trauma. (I had a serious head injury when I was ten and all I could do was lay in bed and watch cartoons.) The guitar parts on this album manage to balance technical dexterity, monstrous heaviness, and an ever-increasing catchiness. Brann Dailor’s drumming is as brilliant and precise as ever, going a good way towards proving that percussion is the most important element of a truly successful metal record. Personally, I’ve always thought that Mastodon’s one weakness was their lack of a truly distinctive vocalist, but they manage to, for the most part, make up for this by a deft interweaving of Dailor, Hinds, and Sanders’ vocals.
I have to admit that this album didn’t fully reveal its’ power until after close to ten listens, but since then it has only become more and more addicting. I highly recommend throwing down a couple of extra bucks for the special edition which includes a DVD with a surprisingly engrossing making-of documentary.
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